Casual Encounters- Rivals of Ixalan Pre-release Report


Well, I hope everyone enjoyed their pre-release experience this past weekend.  I know I had a ton of fun and thought the new set was pretty cool.  I have heard a lot of people complain about the set because it won’t shake up Standard very much, but that doesn’t mean the set isn’t fun.  I really enjoyed my pre-release and feel like the set is going to be lots of fun in a Limited format and could do some interesting things in Constructed.

Now, going into the event I really didn’t know what to expect.  I had looked over the spoiler a bit and sort of had an idea of what things would look like, but I wasn’t able to get a sense for the best archetypes, what were the sneaky powerful commons and uncommons that can mould a game, or even if the Elder Dinosaurs were any good.  So, on Saturday morning, when I opened up my pre-release kit I wasn’t sure what I would find.

Turns out that somebody down there at Wizards likes me and gave me a late Christmas present.  My pool just about made itself into a deck with very little help from me.  It started with my promo, Ghalta, Primal Hunger.  Now, if you know me, you know that I always have a sweet spot for enormous Green monsters and here is no different.  A 12/12 with Trample was very alluring, but I wasn’t sure if the cost reduction mechanic stapled to it would be good enough to play.  I wasn’t married to it, but it certainly was a darn good reason to be playing Green.

Next I saw not one, but TWO Hadana’s Climb (one in foil) and so now I was at 3 on colour rare cards.  The next pack had Jace, Cunning Castaway meaning that I now had 4 rares across these same two colours.  So, I looked closely at my pool and asked myself the following question: Do I have a merfolk deck in this pool?

The answer was a resounding yes with 10 very playable Merfolk in my pool and a couple of more that I could side in for curve considerations should a matchup prove very fast.  I was set.  To make matters more appealing, I had 6 fliers, Cobbled Wings to give anything else flying, and a pair of Enchantment/Legendary lands that gave my team some ridiculous inevitably. Essentially my deck was extremely hard to block, if left unchecked could grow out of control, and had about as big a top end as I could find.  My plan B, should I be unable to resolve any of my big bombs, was to cast Strength of the Pack as an Overrun sort of effect and try and slam my opponent that way.  I was a little leary of the lack of interaction with my opponent because I only had the one removal spell, but I figured that if I could land 2 drops, cast Hadana’s Climb and pump my dude on Turn 3 and turn up the heat then I would be in the driver’s seat.

Here’s the List:

G/U Merfolk (Rivals of Ixalan pre-release) 3-0-1

(16) Creatures:

Jade Bearer

Silvergill Adept

Merfolk Branchwalker

2 X     Shaper Apprentice

Watertrap Weaver

Thrashing Brontodon

World Shaper

Riverwise Augur

Tempest Caller

2 X  Spire Winder

Wind Strider

Soul of the Rapids

Overgrown Armasaur

Ghalta,Primal Hunger


(3) Spells

Secrets of the Golden City

Hunt the Weak

Strength of the Pack


(2) Enchantment

2 X  Hadana’s  Climb


(1) Artifact

Cobbled wings



Jace, Cunning Castaway


(17) Lands

Evolving wilds

8 islands

8 forests


How did my deck fare?  Wow…it was scary good.  In Match one I played my friend David. David was on a Bant Merfolk game plan splashing white for some much needed removal. In Game 1 he stumbled on his mana while I went Shaper Apprentice, into Hadana’s Climb on Turn 3, into Spire Winder on 4, and the beat down was on.  He couldn’t block the fliers, they all grew to ridiculous sizes and before he landed a 4th land he was dead.  Game 2 I drew 5 lands and a pair of 5 drops.  All I needed were a couple of 2 drops off the top of my deck and I was in good shape.  Instead I drew 2 more five drops.  Dave’s deck came alive and he was backed up with key pieces of removal.  I ended losing and not having enough answers.  Game 3 was a carbon copy of Game 1 except I resolved Ghalta and made her fly for the killing stroke meaning Dave got squashed.

Match 2 was against a guy named Ethan who I have played before and he drubbed me soundly. However, on this day I was the one who came out on top.  Game 1 he showed a White/Red deck and I figured I was in store for a fast Aggro match up.  Instead, he didn’t cast a creature on turns 1,2 or 3 and resolved Trove of Temptation on Turn 4.  Meanwhile, I was busy dropping creatures, another Hadana’s Climb, and punishing the durdle deck.  Game 2 was a little better for him and he built an early presence, but couldn’t leverage it to much advantage.  We stalled out, but Hadana’s Climb ensured that I could turn the tide and he was very much on the back foot.  A 6/7 flying Thrashing Brontodon launched by The Winged Temple of Orazca sealed the deal and left me a very easy 2-0.

Match 3 was against another guy who I’ve played in the past (and he’s beaten me soundly too).  He too was on the U/G Merfolk plan, but he was missing the ridiculous top end.  In Game 1 he stumbled on his mana while my deck curved out into an easy Shaper Apprentice on T2, Hadana’s Climb on T3, and Merfolk Branchwalker and another Shaper Apprentice on T4.  So, I had a full board, an active Enchantment, and I revealed Ghalta off the Explore trigger.  I was in a good position and my opponent was in serious trouble.  He managed to counter my Ghalta because he knew that I had it, but I was more impressed that the cost reduction mechanic even allowed me to try and cast a 12/12 dino on Turn 5! He died shortly thereafter and we moved to game 2.  Game 2 went no better for him except he was able to build an early board state to at least have some blockers.  My Thrashing Brontodon held the ground and was further backed up with a Hadana’s Climb .  I built out my board and on Turn 6, when he had a single Blue mana showing, I was slammed my Ghalta and was able to flip the Enchantment into The Winged Temple of Orazca.  So, the next turn I gleefully sent my 12/12 trampling dino through the air and knocked my opponent out in a single turn.  I was 3-0 and tied for the lead.

Match 4 was an intentional draw.  There were 7 prize packs for First place and 5 for 2nd, so the other guy and I decided it would be fine to just draw and split. There was little to be gained, plus I didn’t really want to face down his Tetzimoc, Primal Death because he had been using it all day to wipe out his opponents.  I left with a very happy 3-0-1 record and was quite happy to collect my winnings.

What did I learn from the day?  First off, Ghalta is very playable.  That cost reduction mechanic is very easy to trigger and you can see it as early as turn 4 or 5 with no trouble at all.

Second, Hadana’s Climb is the truth.  At three mana it can come down at a stage where you can set it up and then give yourself ridiculous inevitability.  All it needs to synergize with is creatures and it kind of feels like you are in the process of building your own bomb.  It just keeps dumping +1/+1 counters on your stuff and, when you’re ready, you can flip it and smash your opponent to pieces.  Having a pair was disgusting, but it meant I could reliably find one early in the game and immediately have my opponent under pressure.

Third, the Thrashing Brontodon was very good. Having a 3/4 come down on Turn 3 immediately holds the ground and makes it very difficult to fight through.  The fact that I could turn my Brontodon into a massive bomb was a nice perk too.  The flexibility to destroy a pesky artifact or enchantment was useful, but was not needed.

Lastly, Ascend was surprisingly easy to trigger and the benefits were indeed sizeable.  Secrets of the Golden City , for example, yielded an extra card very readily and was very useful.  I would have run the card regardless because for 3 mana it is close to a Divination and that would have warranted it a spot, but the fact that it can draw you 3 cards in some spots is a very powerful upgrade.  I didn’t skew my deck much in order to trigger the Ascend but it always surprised me how easily it turned on.  It is going to prove to be an issue in EDH where Ascend will be everywhere and the most busted cards will get extensive play.  I am predicting Vona’s Hunger is likely high on that list.

On the whole, the set was fun and I really enjoyed my day.  The fact that my deck was very strong also helped because I do enjoy winning.  Much as I play casually, I do periodically like to try to see if I can win and today was a nice treat.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the set for my own personal EDH purposes, but I am also optimistic that some of those big scary dinos are going to really shake up standard and send Energy decks packing.  I’m not convinced, but it is a nice thought.


I hope everyone enjoyed their pre-release experience and had a fun day out.  I find they are always a great way to meet new people and just have some fun with the new cards.  So, if you haven’t tried it, I would suggest you do soon.  Thanks for stopping by and having a read and be sure to check back again for another Casual Encounter.


Bruce Gray


Casual Encounters- Top 10 Casual Cards from Rivals of Ixalan



I have to admit, it has been a long while since I was motivated to get back on the computer and to prepare any sort of writing.  I have scads of half started articles that never saw the light of day.  However, nothing jump starts the old creative juices like a new set and Rivals of Ixalan is just around the corner.  So, it is time for my top 10 Casual Cards  from Rivals of Ixalan.

Just a little disclaimer, I’m not looking for cards that will make waves in Constructed formats or Limited.  There are lots of those lists produced by much better players than myself.  No, I’m looking at cards that I think could make a big splash in casual games.  This includes Commander, kitchen table magic, or any time you sit down with some of your friends on a Saturday night, share a few laughs and sling some cardboard for fun.  There may be some overlap with more competitive card choices, but there will likely be some significant differences as well.  So, let’s get started!

10- Etali- Primal Storm

The cycle of enormous Legendary Dinosaurs looks like a ton of fun! The abilities are very intriguing but I don’t think many of them are much good.  The White one seems easy enough to work around, the Black one looks hard to maneuver, and the Green one looks like a big old thumper you would use to squish your opponent.  However, Etali looks really interesting and might be quite playable in Casual circles.  6 mana for a 6/6 creature is achievable and doesn’t price this out of the realm of possibility.  The attack trigger on this is the really enticing piece because it exiles the top card off the deck of each opponent and you may cast those spells without paying the mana costs.  This plays ideally in Commander with 3 or more opponents where you could conceivably hit all sorts of spells off the trigger.  Now, I guess the part that makes this very balanced is the fact that it doesn’t come down with Haste, meaning you technically need to wait a turn before you can attack, but you are playing Red and Red has lots of ways to give creatures Haste and getting a surprise activation.  Once you have haste, the next step is to get multiple attack steps so Aurelia, the Warleader and Combat Celebrant  seem like natural buddies to ride shotgun. This one looks sweet and has got me pretty excited for sure.

9- Nezahal, Primal Tide

Another one of Etali’s Elder Dinosaur buddies is Nezahal and the bottom line is that the amount of text on this card is too hard to ignore.  It can’t be countered. You have no maximum hand size. It has card draw stapled to it. It protects itself by being blinked.  There is just way too much text to ignore…and all of these abilities are things that Casual players love.  Yes, it is 7 mana and tough to resolve, but if you make this your big pay off at the top of your curve, I think you will be very happy.  Now, I LIKE Etali better, but I can’t deny the raw power and gross potential of Nezahal that gives the Blue Elder Dinosaur a slight edge.
8- Hadana’s Climb//Winged Temple of Orazca

We are getting a brand new suite of Legendary Enchantments that then Transform in Legendary lands.  Hadana’s Climb is the first such example and I really like this because it reminds me of one my favorite Simic mechanic, Evolve. We have seen Blue and Green take on some slightly different attributes in the last number of sets, but Evolve was the Simic mechanic from Gatecrash that was based around +1/+1 counters.  It was wildly fun and I have a great 60 card casual deck that plays off that theme.  Well, Hadana’s Climb gets slotted right back in that deck and has some amazing targets to dump counters on to.  Experiment One and  Cloudfin Raptor give you a couple of really viable 1 drops, Shambleshark and Gyre Sage at 2, Evolving Krasis at 3, and Fathom Mage and Master Biomancer at 4 that are huge payoffs.  There are loads of other sweet additions that slide in alongside these cards, but then, once you have dumped enough counters all over your board, you can flip Hadana’s Climb and transform it into Winged Temple of Orazca and have your army juiced up dudes take to the air.  Sure, the strategy is a little slow to get going but once you get your game plan online you could do loads of silly things.  Don’t forget that this piggy backs along with Ezuri, Claw of Progess  to give you an easy starting point for your next Commander build.

7- Crafty Cutpurse

You know what is more fun than making a big old bunch of tokens and wrecking your opponent? Stealing all the tokens your opponent makes and smashing them with their own stuff.  Now, in Limited this sort of ability is dubious.  Many tokens in Limited are 1/1, maybe a 2/2 Zombie, sometimes they fly, but usually come in singles or perhaps a pair.  Small potatoes really.  However, in Casual games people don’t tend to play small tokens.  No.  They want BIG.  Like Desolation Twin big. Wurm Token big. Eternalized Creature big.  You get it.  Big stuff.  And now you can steal their token (s) and wreck their day.  That sounds just about right to me.  It isn’t a flashy creature, but this is highly entertaining and could be truly back breaking.

6- Dead Man’s Chest

They keep giving us this sort of exile ability that allows us to use our opponent’s things to further our own cause.  Gonti, Lord of Luxury is tons of fun and this is just another variant that does rather mean things.  Can you imagine putting this on their…oh…I don’t know…Consuming Aberration that is far larger than it has rights to be…and then enchanting it with this and killing it with a removal spell? You might just exile their ENTIRE deck! Now, I know that is the best case scenario, but even hitting a 5/5 or a 6/6 could make this a very potent card and something that will see play.  There is going to be a person in your playgroup who is looking to abuse this card.  Be ready and come prepared with Enchantment removal to deal with this.
5- Hornswoggle

This one gets the nod on account of having a hilarious dual reference with a former WWE star.  Hornswoggle is a Professional Wrestler that you might want to check up because he looks so unlikely in that role.  The spell, Hornswoggle is also quite decent.  3 mana for a hard counter of a creature is about right.  With many decks playing somewhere between 30-40% of their decks being creatures, you have a number of very viable targets so it really isn’t that limited.  The fact that you can then get a Treasure token can’t be overlooked.  It could help ramp you, be used to trigger Revolt, be used as part of a Revel in Riches sort of deck, or be used in conjunction with Ghirapur Aether Grid .  This is far more of a “meat and potatoes” type card, but is one that will likely see some amount of play.

4- Ravenous Chupacabra

Hello my old friend Nekrataal ! I love this guy and while this version has lost first strike, it has gained another point of toughness.  Not that any of that is overly relevant.  However, this will see plenty of play as people look to have cards that can overlap and do dual duty in their Casual deck.  Again, not flashy, but it serves a purpose and can be easily recurred making for a fine addition to casual decks around the kitchen table.

3- Path of Discovery

This is something that I might be really off base with.  I read this and my head just positively explodes with potential uses for this.  The ability to Explore multiple times in a turn is just too good to pass up and so a deck that can easily dump 2,3, 4 or more creatures into play could reap wild benefits off this.  Token decks. Mass reanimation effects. Blink effects. Hard casting your things. I’m sure I’ve missed stuff, but this seems ridiculous and in a colour that WANTS to put creatures into play!  Maybe having this at #3 is highly optimistic, but to me this sort of ability looks pretty easy to abuse and can be extremely profitable.

2- Huatli, Radiant Champion

Now, this one is likely to only be wanted in a couple of archetypes, but the decks that want her will want her badly and she will be amazing.  Huatli rewards you for going WIDE.  The wider the better.  The wider you can get your board before she comes down the better it will be and one activation of her +1 ability could potentially put her out of range of being killed .  Her -1 ability could be absolutely game changing and really bust up a board stall situation.  Her Ultimate ability is just more value in a deck that wants to put more creatures into play.  Huatli and Path of Discovery at #3 seemed destined to be partners and the synergy is unmistakable. Will she be good enough for Constructed? I’m not sure, but she will make an appearance in Casual decks, that is for certain.
1- Zacama, Primal Calamity

This makes the list because it is a freaking THREE HEADED DINOSAUR! It is also awesome. I know it’s 9 mana.  I know it is 3 colours.  But this thing is a house and is scary as all get out.  If you get to 9 mana and can resolve this thing you can likely wreck the board because the lower half of the text box is pure and utter pain for your opponent.  You can untap all your mana AND those abilities are not tap abilities…they can be activated  the turn this enters the battlefield.  That is wild.  I will be honest, I don’t think this is the Dino tribal commander.  I think Gishath or Grimlock, Dinobot Leader are the better options, but at the top end of the curve, to have this sort of back breaking curve topper is exactly the sort of silly thing Casual players love.  Just imagine the stories you will tell for months every time you sit down to play with your buddies.  Yeah, this takes top spot, even if it isn’t the most competitive card in the set.

Well, thanks everyone for stopping in and having a read. It has been a long time since I last wrote and it felt really good to get back at it.  I’m excited for the pre-release and I hope you are all excited too.  Good luck and have fun wherever you play and be sure to stop in next time for another Casual Encounter.

Bruce Gray


Casual Encounters: Revisiting Dragon’s Maze



Hi everyone and I am very happy to be back.  I had a very busy summer and my writing had to be put on hold.  Even now I’m not sure how much writing I will be able to put together, but I dearly want to get back into the habit so I’m going to start this evening and see where this leads in the next few weeks.

The consensus from the MTG community is that Dragon’s Maze was essentially hot garbage.  I tend to agree with them because most of the set was borderline unplayable in standard.  Even fewer cards had any impact in anything else constructed (apart from Voice of Resurgence) and was mostly left to waste away in boxes of bulk that will never see the light of day.

However, I have recently gone back and started to revisit the set because it is actually Commander gold. There are loads of sleeper EDH picks that are well worth spending the few nickels it takes to pick them up.  Today I’m going to go through and highlight some of the cards that you might have overlooked and that make this set well worth going back and visiting again.


Melek, Izzet Paragon: The Izzet get lots of fun commanders but since Commander 2015 Mizzix has been one of the most popular.  However, Melek just has too much text to ignore and since it costs a mere $0.49 at Three Kings Loot you just can’t go wrong.


Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker: Another really good commander that seems to overshadowed by Phenax, but any time you can grind away until the hit 4 land cards you are going to quickly eat through any deck.


Ruric Thar, the Unbowed: This is a wild card to wreck most games because this cannot be left unchecked.  There is just so much potential for damage with this that it can stifle the game. Oh, and he’s $0.60 so you can’t possibly go wrong.


Putrefy: flexible single target removal.

Pilfered Plans

Pilfered Plans: An improved version of Divination for the dedicated Mill Deck as it digs for answers.


Progenitor Mimic: Is just nuts. Copies of Everything. My play group calls it the photocopier.

Notion Thief

Notion Thief:  This sounds like fun to mess with everyone at the table! Let’s draw ALL the cards!

Trostani's summoner

Trostani’s Summoner:  In a Green/White token deck this makes 10 points of power across 4 bodies and is a house.

Advent of the wurm

Advent of the Wurm: Instant speed 5/5? Yes please.


However, for me the best card that never gets any talk is Lavinia of the Tenth.  There are a mere 143 decks listed on EDHREC making Lavinia super underplayed and her impact on the game is ridiculous.  Whenever you cast her she essentially detains the whole board.  Yes, I know she only says “nonland permanents with converted mana cost of 4 or less” so it isn’t everything, but it does a damn good job of getting most things.  Lavinia is interesting because she detains ALL nonland permanents, not just creatures like many of the other Azorius creatures.  Next time you play, stop and look and see how many thing on the board get detained by her ability and you will be gobsmacked.  Her 4/4 stats are decent too, and the random Protection from Red doesn’t hurt either.  However, any deck playing Lavinia wants to play a control sort of game and she can single handedly slow down the whole board freeing you up to attack or to improve your board state.

I know that I have talked about Lavinia before on here, but I seem to keep lending her out to friends who want to play something different and I keep finding myself losing to my own U/W control deck. Lavinia just shuts us all down, the board gets wiped, the resource battle is pretty lopsided and the enormous pile of counterspells means that we are at the mercy of the deck. On the whole, she is a perfect commander for a U/W control deck and should probably get played more often.

That’s all I’ve got for tonight.  I might post the Lavinia list I’ve been running, but I’m worn out tonight and need to call it quits.  Thanks guys and have good evening.

Bruce Gray



MTG Thought of the Day- Budget Modern G/W Humans



As much as I love to play EDH, I do still dabble in Modern from time to time.  Amonkhet gave me a great chance to open up a deck I was fooling around with and to breath new life into it. Glory-Bound Initiate seemed like the sort of card that was just screaming to be abused and what better way to put him to good use other than to put some +1/+1 counters on it and to go to town?  Let’s start with the decklist and then talk briefly about what it can do.

Modern- G/W Humans

24 Creatures:

3 Champion of the Parish

4 Thalia’s Lieutenant

3 Glory-Bound Initiate

3 Phalanx Leader

4 Avatar of the Resolute

4 Fiend Hunter

2 Bygone Bishop

2 Abzan Falconer


13 Spells:

2 Brave the Elements

4 God’s Willing

3 Travel Preparations

4 Lead by Example


22 Lands:

9 Forest

9 Plains

4 Canopy Vista


This deck is super linear and the game plan is simple.  You want to play creatures and then find a way to get +1/+1 counters on them as quickly as you can to close out the game.  Champion of the Parish is the perfect 1 Drop , but Thalia’s Lieutenant plays a nice complement.  Phalanx Leader produces all sorts of counters and Glory-Bound Initiate reaps the benefits and crushes for major damage and life gain.  The Lifelink is very crucial because this deck wants to race the other deck and one big hit from an Initiate probably puts you in the driver seat to out race your opponent.  At the 3 drop spot Bygone Bishop is a versatile little flier than generates card advantage because it triggers off every creature in the deck.   The secret tech is Avatar of the Resolute because in a deck like this it can easily be a 5/4 or a 6/5 for 2 mana . That can tussle pretty well, provided you can hold the fort long enough to get it out with any sort of counters on it. It is clearly  a high Risk/ High Reward sort of creature that I think is a fun inclusion.

The spells are pretty straight forward for a White Weenie deck. They are mainly pump spells like Travel Preparations and Lead By Example, and protection spells like God’s Willing and Brave the Elements.  Many of the spells allow you to put +1/+1 counters directly on your creature, but also can target the Phalanx Leader and fire extra +1/+1 counters on your team.

Now, this is a very budget version of this sort of deck with Champion of the Parish being the most expensive card at roughly $2.  There is plenty of room to up the power level and the cost of the deck so feel free to tinker with it.  For me, this is all the Modern deck I need.  Whenever I sit down with my friends and they want to play Modern I can reach for this knowing that I will probably lose, but if things break just right I can eek out a victory.  The deck is super budget friendly, surprisingly fun, and capable of some explosive starts that have left a few of my friends shaking their heads.

Thanks for stopping in to read and have a great start to your weekend!

Bruce Gray






Shu Yun, The Silent Tempest/Energy EDH deck



Hi Guys,

I’ve been pushing an Energy related theme in many of previous posts, particularly as they pertain to Decoction Module and Fabrication Module. I maintain these two artifacts are versatile enough to warrant being played in any deck that has even a few Energy syncs.  To highlight this I wanted to share my Jeskai coloured Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest EDH deck that has a strong Energy sub theme that adds a added level of complexity to the deck, but increases the relative threat density significantly.


SHU Yun, The Silent Tempest


Abbot of Keral Keep

Nivix  Guildmage


Bygone Bishop

Mantis Rider

Chasm Skulker

Fiend Hunter

Aethertouch Renegade

Whirler Virtuoso

Banisher Priest

Desolation Giant

High Sentinels of Arashin

Quicksmith Spy


Thunderbreak Regent

Aetherstorm Roc

Cataclysmic Gearhulk

Goblin Dark Dwellers

Elite Scaleguard


Deadeye Navigator

Aethertide Whale

Combustible Gearhulk

Diluvian Primordial



Ajani, Caller of the Pride




Part the Waterveil

Slip Through Space


Devils Play

Treasure  Cruise

End Hostilities

Planar Outburst

Mystic Retrieval



Saheeli’s Artistry




Rootborn Defenses

Uncaged Fury

Jeskai Charm

Insidious Will

Dig Through Time


Izzet Charm

Temur Battle Rage

Fact or Fiction

Glimmer of Genius

Reality Shift

Brutal Expulsion

Steam Augury


Flying Crane Technique

Swords to Plowshares



Citadel Siege

Thopter Spy Network

Banishing Light

Outpost Siege

Era of Innovative

Metallurgical Summonings



Dynavolt Tower

Decoction Module

Key to the City

Whispersilk Cloak

Cultivator’s Caravan

Animation Module

Fabrication Module

Tamiyo’s Journal



Skyline  Cascade

Adarkar  Wastes

Evolving Wilds

Inventors’ Fair

Mage Ring Network

Wind-Scarred  Crag

Port Town

Temple of Enlightenment

Mystic Monastery

Glacial Fortress

Izzet  Guildgate

Swiftwater Cliffs

Temple of Triumph


Azorius  Guildgate

Aether Hub

Needle Spires

Meandering River

Prairie Stream

Tranquil Cove

Shivan Reef

Wandering Fumarole

5 plains

4 mountain

4 islands


The deck plays exactly like you think a Shu Yun deck would, play a bunch of spells, trigger Shu Yun’s Double strike ability and end someone by going all in and wrecking them .  However, the Energy angle is fairly obvious and your opponent is wondering where the payoff is…until you resolve the pay off.  The look on my opponents faces while my Energy count ticked up to 15 through artifacts just passively doing their thing, and then an Aethertouch Renegade was the first Energy sync off the top of the deck and the resulting burnination was more than my opponent really had in mind.  Between the massive amount of card advantage this deck can manufacture, ridiculous amounts of Energy, and the fact that on any turn Shu Yun can essentially combo-kill someone this deck is fun, budget friendly, and surprisingly resilient.

Thanks very much guys…and have fun.

Bruce Gray


Casual Encounters- Hidden Gems Hiding in Plain Sight


, , ,

I take great pleasure in using cards from all sorts of sets that have a rather innocuous ability, but once they get into play can have a very large impact on the game.  I call this “mining for hidden gems”.  However, since I have made a conscious effort to use rather recent sets to help in my deck construction, they are often cards that were always right there, available to be used, but have avoided widespread detection.  These are my “Hidden Gems Hiding in Plain Sight”.  I’ve got a number of these cards from recent sets that I wanted to highlight today for you and hopefully encourage you to go digging and experimenting with some Hidden Gems.

Decoction Module and Fabrication Module– These two very simple artifacts are excellent examples of Hidden Gems.  I have heard very few people jump at the opportunity to include these two little cards in their decks, but they are surprisingly strong additions.  The easiest way to describe these two artifacts is that they have an open ended synergy that can fit with any deck, but when you have an Energy payoff or two in your deck they get much better.  Let’s look at these two.

Fabrication Module is a 3 mana artifact that says when you get and Energy, you can put a +1/+1 counter on target creature you control.  That’s easy enough and there are lots of decks that love +1/+1 counters.  The secondary ability is tap 4 generic mana and tap Fabrication Module and get an Energy, and make a +1/+1 counter because you just got an energy.  If you are playing a deck that is interested in making counters, this is ideal.  It can be used at will to add +1/+1 counters whenever you need one and with things like Doubling Season, Winding Constrictor etc, can easily be triggered and get you to the point where you can build up those counters pretty easily.

Decoction Module  says that whenever a creature enters the battlefield under your control you get and Energy.  The secondary ability allows you to spend 4 generic mana and tap Decoction Module and return target creature to your hand.  So, the ability to return a creature to your hand could be super valuable as a combat trick or a way to save your most valuable creature.  This is just a versatile ability that could allow you to get some extra value, to blank a removal spell, or generally be used to your advantage as you need it.  The incidental energy gained is nice, but is not the primary reason you play this artifact.

Now, let’s move forward to the scenario where you put BOTH of these artifacts in your deck.  You play a creature, Decoction Module gives you an Energy, Fabrication Module triggers and you get an +1/+1 counter and still have the option to use the secondary abilities on either one as needed.  This is just nice value.  Sure, in your Commander deck it could be tricky to assemble the pair, but so long as your deck wants the ability created by either one independently you are perfectly comfortable with running them.  In those games where you get them BOTH, well, you’re going to enjoy them twice as much.

However, while these cards are cute, they are hardly game breaking (unless you really are intent on breaking them) but we haven’t discussed what to do with some of that Energy you’ve picked up.  Kaladesh had a number of really interesting Energy Syncs that you could run without much issue.  On the whole, the Energy mechanic is a little problematic because it does only appear in Kaladesh block, but you don’t need very many options to make this a viable element of your deck.  A few of the obvious payoffs include Dynavolt Tower and Aetherworks Marvel. However, some less well known places to dump your Energy include Aetherstorm Roc,  Multiform Wanderer, or Shielded Aetherthief, or the always popular Whirler Virtuoso.  It doesn’t take much in order for these cards to be a really strong Energy sync.

I will need to post my Jeskai Energy EDH deck list to give you guys a better perspective of how I use all the Energy produced, but the Gems that make the whole thing possible are those two dinky little artifacts that are forgotten more often than not.

Thanks for stopping by and reading!

Bruce Gray






Casual Encounters- Changing With the Times



Hi everyone.  I seem to keep coming back on this blog and apologizing for lengthy absences.  Finding that balance between, family, work, and hobbies is just not easy and I find that I never get around to writing.

So, I have decided that instead of trying to produce larger and lengthier articles about certain topics that I would instead use this blog for shorter posts that will touch on a few things.  I will certainly take an EDH/Casual focus, as I always have, but I will try to highlight perhaps obscure or underplayed cards, fun interactions, interesting variants on the game, or half baked MTG finance ideas that I am hoping will save me (and you) some money.    I will still periodically post more in depth about some aspects and to provide some up to date lists of some of my favorite Commander decks, but the focus will be on shorter MTG thoughts. Thanks, and back to the good stuff!

MTG  Thought- Cards you Ought to be playing:

This week I am going to be highlighting a couple of obscure cards I’ve recently picked up that might be of interest to you, under the right circumstances. Now, I love looking through old binders of bulk jank and I recently had a chance to scope out the bulk rare binder at my local LGS and found these two gems.

On a recent episode of The Command Zone with Jimmy Wong and Josh Lee Kwai, they clearly articulated why keeping your mana curve in consideration was important (episode #156) and I really took this to heart.  It makes good sense to have plays in the early stages of the game and to efficiently use your mana.  I have heard the theory espoused saying that the person who uses the most mana over the course of the game should win more often.  This seems like a self evident series of statements, but they get overlooked in the excitement of building a fun brew where you load up on top heavy bombs and wondering why you were never really in the game.   When I found these two guys my brain immediately jumped to that episode of The Command Zone.  These creatures just scream flexible creature that scales in the late game and I knew I had to scoop them up.

Let’s start with Anavolver, because and its core it is a 3/3 for 4 mana.  These are the same stats as a Hill Giant and are hardly scary.  However, let’s be real, if you NEED a four drop, well, you got one.  However, when you have plenty of mana you aren’t just dropping a 3/3 for 4 mana because with the Kicker ability on this you can easily turn this into a 6/6 flying and regenerating beast for 7 mana.  The fact that this can scale like that and be a relevant card in the early stages of the game and the late stages of the game is very appealing.

Necravolver is super relevant for all the same reasons, but even has some added synergy because of its color identity.  Abzan colors already want to make use of +1/+1 counters and this acquires them just by being kicked.  Can you imagine Necravolver picking up a number of additional counters thanks to Daghatar, Anafenza, or any other source of counters?  This turns into a huge, trampling, lifelinking behemoth that MUST be answered in the late stages of the game, or could be a 2/2 for 3 mana in the early parts of the game and hold off your opponent.

As a guy who has actively built a Commander deck for all 5 wedges, discovering these old rare cards from Apocalypse from 2001 was a real boon.  I know the color identity can be limiting and most players won’t build a three (or more) color deck, but at least being aware of these sorts of cards will pay dividends should you ever decide to undertake such a project.


The final card I am excited about is a much more recent card and for less exotic.  Scribe of the Mindful is one of my newest favorites because it does exactly what I want from a relatively poor creature.  Many of my Commander decks are looking to recur certain spells (or, maybe just Villainous Wealth ) and this is just one more inexpensive way to recur a spell.  Block, sacrifice it, and get back that spell you always wanted seems like a perfectly reasonable play pattern and something I feel like I’ll be  doing plenty.  It is no Mnemonic Wall, but is plays well enough that I have a number of decks yearning for some of these little guys.

That’s all for today.  Thanks for stopping by and here’s hoping that with more regular, shorter pieces I can share my thoughts with you all more often. Thanks for stopping by!

Bruce Gray




Casual Encounters- Top 10 Casual Cards from Amonkhet



Welcome back folks.  I realize I’ve been away for a bit, but sometimes work and family get in the way of playing Magic .  However, I’m back and excited for Amonkhet.  By the time this gets posted many of you will have already played at your pre-release and had a first taste of the cards.  Competitive players of all stripes will be looking to brew up that next great deck, or to dismantle existing ones with some new tech.  However, for those of us who play more casually our targets might be slightly different.  We might get excited over some slightly different cards. Today I’m going to go through the top 10 cards for Casual play.  Now, that might be similar in some respects to players with a more competitive bent, but I bet some of these cards might have been overlooked to some degree and I’m happy to shine a light on them too.  So, with no further adieu, let’s get down to business.

Honorable Mention: Samut, Hapatra, Temmet and Neheb

This is not quite a cycle, but I’ve lumped these together as a series of Gold, Legendary creatures that will undoubtedly be featured as a Commander in EDH decks very soon.  They all have their merits and offer very unique abilities depending on what sort of EDH deck you are looking to construct.  My personal favorite is Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, but they are all fascinating cards and will open up significant deck development space in EDH for some neat new decks.

10- Vizier of the Menagerie:  Just the raw stats on this card aren’t bad and at least got my attention.  A 3/4 for 4 mana is a pretty reasonable rate and you wouldn’t be ashamed to sleeve it up and play it in most decks. However this card has a whole pile of text on it and it is all relevant text to most players.  The first two clauses read a little like Oracle of Mul Daya, and the mana fixing produced is fascinating and likely really important.  Now, it ISN’T Oracle of Mul Daya, but just because it isn’t the same doesn’t mean it isn’t good.  I think this will see plenty of play in decks playing Green, particularly tri-coloured or four colour decks looking to enable mana fixing.  I kind of have a suspicion that this was supposed to be in the recently released Commander 2017 product but they didn’t want to put it in every deck, so they slid it into Amonkhet  and let everyone have access to it.  Regardless, I think this is a very solid card and will see plenty of play soon enough.

Harvest Season

9- Harvest Season: This is just a ridiculous ramp spell that will just allow you to go nuts.  If you can tap down your creatures without attacking, and there are plenty of ways, this could easily ramp you 3-5 land cards with no difficulty, and that is a conservative estimate.  Mana dorks, utility creatures, Vehicles, Convoke, Improvise, there are SO many ways to enable this that it seems almost criminal. The sort of raw ability to ramp on this card is super important in EDH and other Casual formats where you are casting massive spells early and often.  The sooner you get there, the better it will be for you and your deck meaning that virtually any Green deck will be running this.  Let the good times roll.

8- The Gods:  I am going to lump all these guys together not because they are all the same power level, but rather because to NOT mention them would be a disservice.  There is no doubt that they are all powerful cards, but some are better than others. Rhonas looks like a home run while Bontu and Oketra have their appeal.  Hazoret is interesting too, but my personal play style would have me shy away from being Hellbent in a Casual game because I like having a full grip of cards.  Kefnet seems like the weakest of the bunch because I question how easily he will be to turn on and make active but a 5/5 with flying and indestructible is still real. They are all very powerful and can’t be overlooked regardless if some are stronger than others.  If I open one of these guys up at my pre-release I will totally try it out and maybe I will be surprised.  Regardless, they make the list and can’t be discounted.

Drake Haven

7- Drake Haven:  This just looks like a ridiculous value engine that someone is going to put in some Cycling/Discard heavy deck, partner it with Talrand, Sky Summoner and Drake you to death.  In the past I have liked these sorts of cards when they come in the shape of Goblinslide, but for some reason I am less excited about this one.  Maybe it is because I know I can’t deal with the Airforce very well and will die to the card. Lots.  Regardless of whether or not I like the card, I can’t deny the potential of this card to do some nutty things and that’s why it is on this list.

Pyramid of the PantheonGilded Lotus

6- Pyramid of the Pantheon– I have heard very little hype about this card, but I am very excited for this artifact.  This is deceivingly powerful even with the drawback.  A one mana artifact that you can use to fix your mana in the early stages of the game is not ideal when you are overpaying for the fixing, but still useful and will play a key role to get your game plan rolling .  However, the moment you get three Brick Counters on this it turns into a Gilded Lotus and ramps you like crazy.  EVERY deck will want one of these and since it is an artifact it will GO in every deck.  I will likely be trying to grab a whole pile of these because it seems like it is too good to be true.

Lord of the Accursed

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Casual Encounters- Why I want Hero’s Downfall Back so Much


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Welcome back to Casual Encounters, my little corner of the internet where I can post what is going on inside my head with respect to Magic: the Gathering.  We have heard a great deal in the last little while about how Wizards has pushed card types and haven’t really provided us with answers to keep pace.  The best example of this recently has been the advent of Vehicles which required a banning for Smuggler’s Copter.  While Copter was banned, there are still plenty of other very good vehicles floating around and it is really hard to interact with them profitably.  However, Wizards has continued to push other card types and to make scarier and scarier weapons to crush your opponent.  I’m fine with them pushing card types, but they need to give us reasonable options with which to combat them and that’s why they need to reprint Hero’s Downfall.

Why do we need answers?

It has been pretty well documented that Vehicles has been a nightmare for Wizards.  Copter needed to be banned.  Heart of Kiran and Mardu vehicles is the most popular (and successful) deck in Standard currently.  They are colourless, go in everything, and usually the crew cost is a reasonable cost for what you are going to do.  Even in Limited Renegade Freighter and Untethered Express, affectionately called “Pain Trains”, are devastating.  But perhaps the most challenging part is asking yourself “how do I DEAL with these things?”.  It isn’t obvious, they are tricky to interact with, and generally hard to cope with.  The trick is that Wizards has increasingly moved to having targeted removal as Sorceries like Prey Upon and Ruinous Path, or being very expensive like Tidy Conclusion or Anguished Unmaking.  None of these are really good methods for dealing with vehicles because vehicles dodge sorcery speed removal and expensive removal usually means you take your whole turn off (or get punished in another way)  by having to kill the darn thing.  Yes, we do get a few good answers like Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness and a few other odds and ends, but these are as good as gold in Magic these days.

However, it is more than just Vehicles that are causing a problem.  Planeswalkers are exceedingly difficult to deal with and we just don’t have a lot of tools to address these powerful cards. I can think of only a few cards ever printed that have the text “Destroy Target Planeswalker” and currently in Standard you only have Ruinous Path and To the Slaughter.  With Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Liliana the Last Hope, and NOW Gideon of the Trials we are seeing some serious souped up walkers and have very few ways to actually deal with them short of smashing them or catching them with a burn spell. There just aren’t a lot of good tools. The fact alone that Gideon of the Trials means that if you can’t remove the Gideon that you can’t beat your opponent is a huge issue and pretty big push for the card in a Standard environment that could conceivably see a deck play 8 Gideon Planeswalkers.  We just need some tools with which to handle these walkers.  There is a pretty easy card reprint that could be made to help take pressure off and to give players a fighting chance against these ultra powerful cards.


Why reprint Hero’s Downfall?


People reflect on Hero’s Downfall and think back to its use in Standard.  During Theros/RTR standard Mono-Black Devotion was everywhere and a full playset of Hero’s Downfall was a prerequisite to playing the deck.  It was pretty standard play pattern to Thoughtseize on Turn 1, take turn 2 off, Turn 3 Hero’s Downfall their creature, and on four you land a bomb and quickly destroy your opponent.  So, the card got a bad wrap in a format that people claimed was a three deck format, but was it really all that bad?.

However, let’s try and look at the card a little more objectively.  The CMC on the card is 3 and includes double black mana meaning it is rigorous to try and cast it and probably on the slow end of things when it comes to Grade A removal.  Would this ever make a Modern Deck?  Unlikely because it is competing against so many powerful options in the format. It is absolutely not warping in any manner, nor is it likely to replace more efficient removal in Modern.

Moving on to Standard,  3 mana is hardly ridiculous in Standard, nor is it so expensive that decks are going to avoid it. You can tell me that we already have Ruinous Path, and that is true, but making it a sorcery instead of an Instant is pretty serious stuff.  The text on Hero’s Downfall allows you to kill Gideon, or to knock out that Vehicle at Instant speed and to have an honest answer to these powerful spells.  It offers good flexibility, is priced fairly, and is an impactful card to play at almost any stage of the game.  It doesn’t warp or wreck an existing format and by reprinting Hero’s Downfall you give players a tool with which they can fight back.

Casual Players would LOVE to see Hero’s Downfall reprinted because since many players run more than one deck they likely need to have multiple copies of this card.  Even now, with it being  fairly recently printed in a large set and being out of Standard and not played much in Modern, it is a $2.50  card in Canada at Three Kings Loot.  That is easily $10-12 dollars for a single target removal spell that you keep in your deck as a form of insurance policy to deal with tricky targets, but there is no reason it couldn’t be much cheaper.

Now, IF Hero’s Downfall was spoiled as part of Amonkhet or Hour of Devastation would that warp the world of Magic?  Likely not.  Perhaps Mardu Vehicles could adopt playing some number of these instead of Unlicensed Disintegration, but is that really an upgrade?  I doubt it because the damage is useful in many instances.  4 Colour Saheeli doesn’t play Black meaning it doesn’t have access to it.  The Black/Green decks could use it as a way to help them interact with Vehicles, Gideon, and even Saheeli perhaps giving the deck a shot in the arm.  If other decks make use of it and shake up the Metagame then I won’t really complain in that instant either.  Modern couldn’t care less.  Casual Players would be all on board. Basically, it looks like there would be almost no negative consequences and players would get what they need: a way to interact profitably with some of the most powerful and difficult cards to play against.

The need for some sort of powerful, fairly costed removal that answers many of these new and very dangerous cards is obvious, of that there is no doubt.  Hero’s Downfall is already a card that exists and could very easily be adapted with new art and fit in virtually any set making it an ideal reprint option and a way to keep troublesome cards in check.  Is it the definitive answer?  No, but it would be a start in the right direction to help players have a tool to cope.  This mess with not having enough good answers is a long way from being over, but hopefully we can find a reprint of Hero’s Downfall sometime soon and give players another chance to settle the format.

Let me know what you think below.  Is Hero’s Downfall one of the answers we need to keep troublesome cards in check?  Is it going to break something?  IS there a better option that is just as fair?  Let me know what you think.

Thanks for stopping by for another Casual Encounter and be sure to stop again soon.

Bruce Gray



Casual Encounters: You Should be Playing These Cards


There are all sorts of players out there in the Magic community and they are all looking at cards a little differently.  With so many cards, formats, and people with different ends it can be hard to identify some things that really ought to be played, but often get overlooked.  Today I’m going to highlight a few cards that you may have overlooked and that really should be in your decks.


Tamiyo’s Journal:  This is one of the cards that I’ve been trumpeting for months now because I think the card is extremely potent.  In a format where you have 40 life this is incredibly valuable because it guarantees you that all important source of card draw that you are looking for in your EDH deck. Those Clue tokens are invaluable to ensuring that you can out resource your opponent.  It is colourless, goes in everything, and acts, at worst, as a personal Howling Mine to give you access to a second card each turn.  If that is where this card stopped you would be ok.  However, when it just sits on your board and passively accrues you Clue Tokens for a couple of turns that you can sacrifice it becomes just like a Diabolic Tutor that you can use to find that perfect answer to the board.  This card, right there, is ideal and really ought to be played because it offers you considerable versatility while asking relatively little of you in the process. I agree, for five mana this has virtually no impact on the board and can’t save your bacon if you are dreadfully behind, but it is a great engine if you need to catch up a little or start to pull ahead when you are at parity, but it isn’t done yet.


Tamiyo’s Journal is even more impactful now that Revolt is a mechanic that is available and relevant to play.  Any card that is looking to be triggered by Revolt works very nicely in conjunction with this card giving it even more value and increased incentive to be played.  A few such uses include Call for Unity that is an anthem of limited usefulness in many decks, but on a board state where Tamiyo’s Journal is on board and active it is a ridiculous proposition that essentially makes your creatures 100% unmanageable.  If having a huge Anthem isn’t really your thing, perhaps Aid from the Cowl is more like it to give you a source of unmatched graveyard recursion.  Aetherworks Marvel is another potent target that can be used to great effect with all those Clue tokens even if it doesn’t say Revolt on the card.


Now, Revolt is one way to make use of Tamiyo’s Journal, there are still a few other fun ways to have this interact with other cards.  The most obvious is by playing it in conjunction with Improvise cards because the Clue Tokens give you ways to power out scary things with ever increasing velocity.  Herald Anguish is the poster boy for creatures like this, but Whir of Invention seems like a close second to allow you to go and find something truly degenerate…at Instant speed.  Herald of Anguish also gets good fodder to use those Clues to eat away at your opponent’s board if you have too.  Inspiring Statuary seems like another fun option and a great way to just power out just all the craziest things you can dig up. As a final piece, Ghirapur Aethergrid allows you to weaponize all those Clues and use them to zap your opponent for literally next to no cost to you.


Essentially Tamiyo’s Journal is suitably flexible and synergistic that it can go in virtually every deck, but yet it isn’t as ubiquitous as it seems.  It costs a mere $0.59 on Three Kings Loot despite the multitude of applications and versatility that it is offered by including it in your lists. This really ought to be a card that you play and you will not regret it.   I would strongly suggest that you go back and have a second look and see if this card can’t offer your deck something and if it might be worth your while to add it to your list.


Inspiring Statuary: the case for Inspiring Statuary is much more simple and direct. This doesn’t appear to be a mana rock, but at its worst that is all it is. However, in casual formats, where there are plenty of good artifacts to go around, this could be a much more substantial cost savings on your spells. When good equipment,  under utilized artifact creatures, and static artifacts that impact the board can be tapped for mana now you are cooking with gas. It really doesn’t take much to make this a really good card despite the fact it hasn’t migrated over yet.  I’d be looking to find a few of these and sock them away for when Statuary is a really big thing.

Diluvian Primordial

Primordial Cycle: One thing that I increasingly notice is that the player base for Magic has grown substantially since I rejoined the game back in 2012.  In that time there have been lots of really good cards printed that I take for granted and that many people have never seen before.  A prime example is the Primordial Cycle from Gatecrash.  Many people don’t really look back at Gatecrash as being much of a set to remember apart from some Shock land reprints.  However, the Primordial cycle is something that really ought to be looked at closely.  In a multiplayer game these 7 mana mana-hogs are devastating.  Sylvan Primordial has gotten itself banned because it was too darn good, but all the others are pretty wild too.  Read the cards carefully because the templating is perfect for a multiplayer EDH game.  I slammed two of these into my Sultai EDH deck (Black and Blue) and my opponents all sat in quiet discomfort as I played the game with THEIR resources.  They weren’t happy and the impact was huge.  Check these guys out and you won’t be disappointed.

Grave Betrayal

Grave Betrayal:  Another hugely expensive card, but one that can be super swingy and turn the tide in your favour quite easily.   Who doesn’t love killing your opponents creatures and then using them to KO  your opponent?  That sounds like fun to me. Now, at 7 mana it is essentially unplayable in 1 v1 formats but in multiplayer scenarios it is feasible. Can you envision the situation where you wrath away the full board of creatures and then getting them once they die?  Yes, that is the best case scenario but even spot removal or having things die in combat all triggers this as well making this reasonably impactful and quite scary. This isn’t for every deck, but when you can get this one to work for you it is very potent and well worth a look.


Well there we have some cards you should consider to help liven up your next casual game. Some of these are undervalued bulk Rares from recent sets, and some are from a few years ago and may be forgotten. However, these are all capable of having a pretty significant impact on the game and worth a further examination. Besides, who doesn’t like having the newest tech to help liven up the game?  Let me know in the comments below if there is something I missed or if there is a card that you love to slam in your decks. Thanks for stopping by and be sure to stop by next time for another Casual Encounter.


Bruce Gray